Biblical Doctrine, Plainly Stated

By William S. Plumer, 1875


Quite a number of words are used in theology which deserve some explanation.

I. One of these is RELIGION. This word points to the most important matter which can claim the attention of mortals. Sometimes it denotes the whole body of truth, which has God for its subject. Sometimes it points to that class of affections and that course of life, which have God for their highest object. Sometimes it seems to embrace all these. If men are right in their religion, other errors are reparable. If here they err, every step will be towards ruin. Religion is either true or false. There can be but one true religion. But the number of false religions are countless. If Christianity is true, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Mohammedanism are false. If either of them is true, Christianity is false. Where a religion in the main is true, some of the forms of it may have much error mingled up with considerable truth. This mixture of error may be so great that the system may differ but little from some of the forms of false religion.

Some think the word "religion" is derived from a Latin word which means to review, or to reconsider. If this is the sense, it denotes a study of all that pertains to our duty to God. But most writers derive religion from a word which means to bind fast. If this is the sense, then religion is the same as obligation in regard to moral subjects. These may well employ the highest powers of the noblest creatures God has made. No man can slight them without loss and injury to his mind and heart. If these deserve no attention, life is an utter vanity. And if they deserve any attention, it is clear that they deserve our supreme attention. The foundation of all religion rests on the belief of the existence of God.

II. Another word requiring some explanation is WORSHIP. Sometimes the word is used generally, very much in the same sense as religion. But when we speak exactly, by worship we mean supreme religious homage paid to God alone under a sense of our moral obligations to him. The seat of acceptable worship is the soul. All sincere worship engages both the understanding and the affections. It must be hearty. "The true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him. God is a spirit: and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." John 4:23, 24. The better we know God, the more capable are we of worshiping him aright. It is sad indeed when it can be truly said of men, "You worship you know not what." John 4:22. "I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the understanding also. In understanding be men." 1 Cor. 14:15, 20.

Into all worship pleasing to God must enter faith, love, reverence, humility, uprightness, and knowledge. Insincere worship is highly offensive to God. Worship is either private or public. Private worship ought to be as secret as our circumstances will allow. Matt 6:5, 6. Public worship cannot be laid aside with out the greatest loss to the cause of truth and piety. All worship ought to be solemn, free from vanity and levity, in act, word, or spirit. It ought also to be free from vain forms and idle ceremonies. It ought not to be morose, nor surly, but cheerful and animated. It ought to be pure from superstition and fanaticism.

III. What is the KNOWLEDGE OF GOD? Sometimes we use the phrase "knowledge of God" as meaning the whole of true religion. But commonly we attach a more exact idea to it.

1. There is a speculative or theoretical knowledge of God. This is sometimes quite extended, embracing one's views respecting the existence, perfections, and will of God. But it has no power over the heart and conduct. He who has it lives like an atheist or an infidel. He holds much truth, but he holds it in unrighteousness. His knowledge, because not used aright, increases his guilt in the sight of God. "To him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin." James 4:17.

2. There is a saving knowledge of God. This affects the heart and controls the conduct. It is eminently practical and experimental. This is that spoken of by Jesus Christ when he says, "This is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." John 17:3. This knowledge is accompanied by love to God and man, and by true faith in the Redeemer and in the Father who sent him. It humbles the soul, and yet it sustains it in great trials. We would all have more knowledge of God if we put a higher estimate upon its value; if we had a deeper sense of our own ignorance, errors, and weaknesses; if we sought for knowledge with more earnestness, and especially if our prayers were more fervent. The great hindrances to our growth in divine knowledge are pride, self-conceit, a trifling levity of mind, sloth or a lack of diligence, the indulgence of whims and fancies, calling men our masters, or believing things upon human authority.

IV. Who is a THEIST? He is one who believes in God. All Christians are theists. Originally the word theist meant the same as the word deist, and pointed to a believer in the divine existence. But for a long time the word deist has denoted modern infidels, who, professing to believe in the existence of God, denied that he had ever revealed his will to men. Commonly the writings and the lives of deists have been as contrary to good morals as they have been hostile to piety. All who believe in God are theists.

V. An ATHEIST is one who is without God. Atheists are of three classes: First, such as do not think the existence of God is sufficiently proven. Second, such as think there is some proof that there really is a God, but in their hearts wish there was none. And third, such as live and act just as they would if they believed there was no God. These all agree in this, that to all good ends and purposes they are "without God in the world." Men have been willing to lay down their lives rather than believe in the divine existence. Atheism helps nobody. If it could be proven to be true, it would make no man less wretched, less wicked, or less foolish; but on the contrary it would make him every way less fit to live. It teaches no good lessons. It begets no solid hopes.

VI. Atheism is not very widely separated from PANTHEISM. Men easily pass from one of these errors to the other. He who says that there is no God, and he who says that everything is God, have each a theory well suited to the most brutal knowledge, and to the lowest depravity. There have long been professed Pantheists in the world. Modern Pantheists are greatly given to contempt of the rest of mankind. They love to talk in a learned gibberish, which no one understands, not even themselves.

VII. ANTI-THEISM asserts positively that there is no God. This is the rashest assertion any man ever made. It can never be proven either to be true or probable. A poor creature limited to a small part of our world asserts what none but an infinite mind could intelligently declare, if it were true, namely, that there is no God. No man can elevate his character, or improve the knowledge or the virtue of his raceóby making assertions respecting a point on which his information does not bear some just proportion to the extent of the proposition which he lays down. None but a "fool" could or would say, "There is no God."